A pilots' war
No 62 Squadron RFC, France February-March 1918
The Squadron left St. Omer for Serny Aerodrome on the 1st February 1918. At Serny work commenced, initially with the Squadron conducting practice patrols typically in flights of six aircraft. The first balloon patrol took place on the 17th February 1918, the first line patrol on the 25th February, and the first offensive patrol (in exceptionally heavy wind) on the 1st March 1918.
It became clear at the beginning of March that the Germans were going to attack on the St.Quentin front, the whole of the 9th Wing, to which 62 Squadron belonged, proceeded to Villers Bretonneux, Cachy, and Champien aerodromes. No. 62 Squadron was stationed at Cachy [SE of Amiens - see map], and carried out Offensive patrols. It was here that the exceptionally heavy work carried out by the Squadron during the enemy's offensive, commenced. The Germans started to react to the British patrols on 10 March and 62 Squadron patrols (usually six aircraft) recorded their first main claims for destruction of EA - six on that day including those driven down out of control (OOC). This continued on 11 March with two further claims.
62 Sqn Bristol Fighters setting off, Capt. Staton MC's aircraft in foreground.
The first casualties for the Squadron were reported on 12th March, when the Patrol Commander Capt. D S Kennedy MC, and three other pilots and crews of a nine aircraft patrol were brought down. Capt. Kennedy, flying with Lt. H S Gill as observer (B1247) was attacked by a large formation of EA and his machine was brought down in flames. The whole of his flight became engaged, in a "dog fight" and three other aircraft failed to return. These were Lt.s Fenton and Boyce (B1250), Lt. Clutterbuck and 2/Lt. Sparks (B1251), and Lt. Ferguson and Sgt Long all of whom were taken prisoner. Two enemy aircraft were claimed on that date as having been destroyed or brought down out of control. Though they didn't know it at the time, this engagement was against Jagdstaffel 11, Richthofen's Squadron and part of his JG 1 Flying Circus.
The Squadron met the Circus again the next day (13th March) as recorded below in RFC Communiqué 131. Near the end of a patrol Capt. Geoffrey Hughes the Patrol Commander, having sighted a German formation, sought to draw them away from the bombing mission his patrol were covering (25 and 27 Sqns). However one of his formation dived on part of the enemy formation. Capt. Hughes was forced to commit the 11 aircraft patrol to action, against his better judgement. Numbers favoured their opponents and 2/Lt. Allen and Lt. Watson (B1207) were shot down in the engagement, the former being KIA, the latter taken prisoner; 2/Lt. N B Wells and Lt. G R Crammond, were also shot down and taken prisoner. Hughes and his observer Capt. Claye were credited with one EA destroyed; this aircraft as it turned out, was piloted by Lothar Von Richthofen, brother of Manfred. Five other EA were claimed though this seems to have been exaggerated in the confusion of the action. (A patrol of No 73 Squadron (Camels) was also in action with the Circus and Capt. Orlebar was jointly credited with LvR's demise.)
After March 21st, when the Germans broke through the Fifth Army Front, the squadron was required to carry out ground strafes, with as many as four different "strafes" taking place on the same day at vital points, and along vital roads. Although many thousands of rounds were fired during these patrols, only one machine (B1267) of the Squadron failed to return, that of Lt. A R James and Lt. J M Hay, who were KIA on the 24th March 1918.
On the 25th March, owing to the German advance toward Villers Bretonneux, Cachy aerodrome was abandoned, and the squadron moved to Remaisnil, near Doullens, where a further 4 days' trench strafing was carried out by the Squadron in the very worst of weather - generally incessant rain and heavy mist. Lt. Cleary and 2/Lt. Stanton (B1211) were brought down on 28 March the former KIA, the latter DOW the following day. AMI Boxall DOW the same day. Pilots 2/Lt. H N Arthur and 2/Lt. S W Symons were seriously injured but managed to fly home - the latter assisted by his Observer Sgt. W N Holmes. Observers Lt. H Merritt and Cpl. J Borwein were also injured. IX Brigade records show that 62 Sqn fired 19,500, 19,700, 16,450, 3,600 and 9,000 rounds at ground targets on 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30 March respectively. The Squadron moved to Planques on 29 March reducing operational activity.
In these two weeks in March, the Squadron had lost 24 aircrew killed, wounded or taken prisoner - an inexperienced squadron confronting some of the German Air Service's best units.
(62 Sqn Photos from Major F W Smith's collection © www.airwar1.org.uk.)
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